Ping, a 23-year-old Atlantic bottlenose dolphin, gave birth to a calf at 9:12 p.m. on Friday at Coral World on St. Thomas, staff at the ocean park announced.
“We are so proud of Ping and thrilled to welcome her calf to our Coral World family,” said Kristine Tartaglio, assistant curator of mammals and birds at Coral World. “Ping and calf are both doing well. We are hopeful that their good progress will continue but will remain vigilant in monitoring them both day and night to ensure they have everything they need,” she said in a news release Saturday.
“This is an exciting moment for Coral World and our community,” said Trudie Prior, Coral World general manager. “Our dolphins have been thriving in their ocean habitat in Water Bay and this birth is a product of their being healthy and doing what comes naturally.”
Suspicions that Ping was pregnant were first raised last August and then confirmed by ultrasound in September. She is the first marine mammal at Coral World to become pregnant, and her calf is the first dolphin to be born under the park’s care, Tartaglio said in May, when the pregnancy was announced. Dolphins have a gestation period of 12 months, and Ping delivered her calf on Friday right on schedule.
Dr. Natalie Noll, Coral World’s consulting marine mammal veterinarian, who visits the facility regularly, confirmed, “After their arrival in 2019, our aim was to get the dolphins acclimated to their new home, an ocean habitat that was very different from their previous home. This birth is an indication that they are doing extremely well,” she said.
The Coastal Zone Management Committee approved Coral World for a maximum of 15 dolphins at a hearing in 2019, 12 of which can be part of the park’s interactive program while an additional three would be allowed if the dolphins reproduce.
Park officials said at the time that breeding was not a part of the plan but also could not be completely ruled out. “There is no perfect way we can keep the animals from breeding, short of separating them, which is not a humane thing to do,” Coral World’s General Curator Lee Kellar said then.
In Saturday’s news release Kellar noted, “There are still key milestones to meet that are important for the calf’s development and bonding with her mother and later her social group. We will be here to support Ping in every way we can as her calf learns and grows alongside her.”
Ping was in labor through the day. She had assistance from the animal welfare specialist and veterinary team every step of the way, the release stated. Both calf and Ping are getting some much-needed rest and time to bond, it said.
Coral World’s other dolphins are all doing well, according to the release. Ping has a support system in Noelani, a 11-year-old female who has been with her every step of the way, it said. The other dolphins are separated from Ping, calf and Noelani and will be introduced to them when the time is right. For now, Ping and her calf need to rest and bond in relative quiet and privacy, the release stated.
Ping will nurse her baby for anywhere from 18 to 24 months, perhaps longer, and the pair will remain together for some time after that, Tartaglio said in May when the pregnancy was announced. “In the wild, dolphins will stay with their mothers for an average of three to six years. However, after they no longer rely on nursing for their primary source of nutrition, they are frequently observed separating from mom to learn to forage and socialize with other dolphins as well,” she said.
Look for coming updates on Coral World’s Facebook and Instagram. For more information, visit the Coral World website.